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How Marcus Hooker can put ball-hawking skills to good use for Buckeyes

Marcus Hooker-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes
Marcus Hooker could be the starting safety for Ohio State. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

How Marcus Hooker can put ball-hawking skills to good use for Buckeyes

COLUMBUS — Marcus Hooker took a massive step forward last season at Ohio State.

After redshirting in 2018, Hooker took up a special teams role in which he started all 14 games. He played safety in seven, including the win over Michigan and in the Big Ten title game over Wisconsin. He became a contributor in just his second year with the Buckeyes.

This season, the leap forward has to be even greater — for himself and for anybody playing safety for the Buckeyes. Longtime Buckeyes captain Jordan Fuller is no longer there to be an eraser for the defense. Now, it’s Hooker and highly-touted Josh Proctor leading the way — and Hooker is ready to take the huge next step in the battle to replace Fuller.

He’s worked all offseason to do so.

“I looked at it as a way for me to grow in many ways, academically and physically, to maximize myself the best way I can for me and my teammates,” Hooker said last week. “A lot of people were pushing me over the break and the time we had off, telling me that I have a chance, not just myself but to me and my team, to play a big role this year. Ever since we found out that we were able to play, we’ve had that spark and we just haven’t stopped working.

“It was just a continuous thing for me to try to grow and develop myself better than I was last year.”

A former three-star prospect and brother of legendary Buckeyes ballhawk Malik Hooker, Marcus Hooker has worked his way into the conversation at safety with Proctor, the presumptive starter who has been talked about as Fuller’s replacement for two years now.

But Hooker has certainly made up ground in the race to the starting spot on Saturday when the Buckeyes host Nebraska in the season opener.

“When it comes to physical talent, I don’t think there’s any shortage of talent for either one,” Buckeyes safety coach Matt Barnes said. “So, it’s just a matter of getting those guys enough reps and showing those guys enough film. Really just kind of Football 101 conversations.”

Marcus Hooker-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State safety Marcus Hooker is vying for a starting role for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Hooker and Proctor both learned great habits at safety from studying behind Fuller for two seasons. They saw Fuller in the film room, working on academics and finding time to perfect his craft on the field. Now they can see that what Fuller was doing payed off; he’s starting for the Los Angeles Rams as a rookie.

Hooker has seen what it takes to be great at Ohio State — from Malik Hooker and Jordan Fuller.

“Jordan was a tremendous athlete, and on top of it, he was on top of his film,” Hooker said. “So that’s the bigger step that we have to take as upcoming safeties. We have to be more detailed when we are watching film. That’s what Jordan always told us. He was always in the film room breaking down film and seeing what broke out on each play, getting what we need to do better at.”

As Hooker continues to battle with Proctor for the starting job, he understands what it would mean to be second on the depth chart. It’s certainly not a bad thing to be behind somebody as talented and athletic as Proctor. Hooker knows the starter and backup will both play key roles in the Buckeyes secondary under Barnes and Kerry Coombs.

But if he does get the nod to start against the Huskers this weekend, Hooker is ready to make a statement. And he knows what his mentality will be heading into the game, whether he’s the first or second safety inserted.

“We all have a different mindset when playing safety,” Hooker said. “I feel like mine is just getting the ball. We want to have huge turnovers. I know I can tackle and things of that nature, but I’m more focused on trying to get the ball any way I can and put our team in a better position to score on offense.”

After two years in the program and a climb up the depth chart, Marcus Hooker might just have a chance to do that this season for the Buckeyes.

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Spencer Holbrook

Spencer Holbrook covers Ohio State football and basketball for Lettermen Row. A graduate of Ohio University's Scripps School of Journalism, he's in his second year covering the Buckeyes. He was previously the sports editor at Ohio's student newspaper, The Post, where he covered Ohio University football and men's basketball.